Last Updated on 2023-03-20 , 5:32 pm
Lah is not the same as lor.
In racially diverse Singapore, Singlish is our de facto language. Nobody learns it in school, we just know it.
In fact, Singlish has become so popular that the word “shiok” has appeared in a daily Wordle game before. Not to mention, there have been books and dictionaries published to educate people about the Singlish language.
This informal, colloquial form of English is definitely part of our day to day culture, questioning our proficiency in the regular English language.
Well, turns out we aren’t that bad at that too.
In a recent survey of the proficiency in the English language of various countries, Singapore topped the Asia rankings.
A Swedish education company, EF Education First, analysed the data of more than 2.1 million takers of their EF Standard English Test or their 2021 English placement tests. Data is then tabulated on the EF English Proficiency Index (EPI)
The survey was conducted across 111 different countries and regions that don’t use English as its native lanugage, and it’s safe to say we did well.
In a broad view, the rankings were divided into categories ranging from “Very high proficiency” to “Very low proficiency”.
Singapore placed second in the “Very high proficiency” band, just one place behind Netherlands, and one above Austria.
On the lower end of the spectrum, countries such as Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Laos can be found.
As for our neighbour Malaysia, she fell in the “High proficiency” band in 24th place.
First in Asia
In Singapore, we love to be first: first in line at the bubble tea store, first in passport strength, first in airport design, bla bla bla…
Even for this, we’re no different.
The three podium places in Asia in descending order are Singapore, Philippines, and Malaysia. As for the inverse, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Laos filled the final three spots.
In order to get here, we had to get an EF EPI score of more than 600. We got a score of 642.
So what does this mean?
First, we have to use nuanced and appropriate language in social situations. Next, we must be able to read advanced texts with ease. Last but not least, we must be able to negotiate a contract with a native English speaker.
Simply put, just be good at English lor.
EF EPI has clarified a few test biases. One of which includes the fact that the test is biased toward respondents who are interested in pursuing language study and younger adults.
Apart from that, it is mostly fair, with the proportion of male and female respondents being roughly balanced. Respondents were from a broad range of ages and only cities, regions, and countries with a minimum of 400 test takers were included in the Index.
The test itself is a “standardised, objectively scored test designed to classify test takers’ language abilities into one of six levels established by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR),” as announced by EF.
The test is available online for free.
Why we did well
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Singapore was under British colonial rule, but other than a small group of educated elite, few spoke English. Our nation was diverse with three major ethnic groups: Chinese, Indians, and Malays. Our English then was horrible.
So, how did we step up?
In 1959, our first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had a vision. He believed that widespread English proficiency would be crucial for our nation’s growth.
He knew that many facets of development required the English language, and learning it would boost our nation’s competitiveness.
As such, in 1987, he implemented English as our medium of instruction, and thus began the popularisation of the language.
In the 1980s, we transitioned toward a Communicative Language Teaching approach where instead of merely learning individual blocks of words, we were given avenues to practise our English, to utilise our blocks to build larger structures.
In 2011, Mr Lee Kuan Yew established the English language Institute of Singapore, with the aim of driving “excellence” in English language teaching. All school leaders and teachers there commit themselves to developing students; English communication skills.
As we became more familiar with the language, it turned into our lingua franca.
Now, it is more common to find people in Singapore speaking English than people speaking any other language.
Dr Minh Tran, the Senior Director of Research and Academic Partnerships at EF Education First, has said that “few countries in the world have has one national leader who has so persistently and wholeheartedly advocated for language education as a key to both economic development and national identity.”
We truly have Lee Kuan Yew to thank.
As previously mentioned, we came from a blend of different races.
When English was first implemented, these races, out of familiarity in practice, infused the style, words, and grammar of their own language into the English that they were learning.
That same “English” is now known as Singlish.
As the prominence of the three distinct languages started to diminish, one thing was here to stay: Singlish.
English may be our official language, but Singlish is the language of the street.
Recently, it has become so popular that it has been documented in a dictionary and studied by linguists. Also, many around the world have also learnt (or at least tried learning) this beautiful, eccentric language.
What was your first response to us doing well in the EF EPI?
Mine was Nice lah!
You can also watch this video to know more about Singlish:
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